KNOXVILLE — Tennessee added a former Florida Gator to its coaching staff to replace a former Volunteer.
Less than five days after former Tennessee tailback Jay Graham left his alma mater after a little more than a year, Robert Gillespie joined the Vols' staff from West Virginia, first-year coach Butch Jones announced on Twitter Friday night.
Four years after Graham replaced Gillespie at South Carolina, the former Florida tailback does the same to Graham with Tennessee.
"We are very excited to welcome Robert and his family into the Tennessee family," Jones said in the program's release. "Coach Gillespie brings a vast knowledge of the SEC, having been a part of it both as a player and as a coach. Robert is a high-energy coach who will get the most out of his players, and he also has a great reputation in the coaching profession as a relentless recruiter."
With spring practice beginning in one week, Jones needed to move quickly to replace Graham, who took a job at Florida State on Monday. According to multiple reports, Jones interviewed Tim Spencer, a former Ohio State tailback and running backs coach who spent the last 10 years with the Chicago Bears, earlier this week. Another report by Football Scoop on Friday said the Vols also interviewed Georgia running backs coach Tony Ball, who elected to remain with the Bulldogs.
Since his career with the Gators ended in 2001, Gillespie played professionally for a couple of years before beginning his coaching career. He worked as a graduate assistant at South Carolina under Steve Spurrier, his coach at Florida, in 2005 before coaching running backs the next three seasons. Gillespie coached with Mike Gundy on Oklahoma State's staff in 2009 and left two years later when OSU offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen took the head coaching job at West Virginia.
After two years with the Mountaineers, the 33-year-old Gillespie is headed back to the SEC.
According to USA Today's coaching salary database, he made $301,000 in 2012. Graham was scheduled to make $260,000 in his first season with Jones in 2013, and Tennessee likely would have increased that salary had he remained with the Vols. As stipulated in his contract, Graham must pay Tennessee 33 percent of his salary within 60 days of the termination of his deal with the Vols.
Gillespie, a Mississippi native, will give the Vols some recruiting connections in Florida. West Virginia ran for 2,234 yards as a team in 2012 and finished 52nd nationally in rushing yards per game. At Oklahoma State, Gillespie coached two 1,000-yard rushers in Kendall Hunter (2010) and Keith Toston (2009) both of his seasons with the Cowboys.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...